DONCASTER Rovers’ teenage midfielder James Baxendale must still be pinching himself having forced himself into the club’s first-team squad after being released by Championship rivals Leeds United at the end of last season.
The 18 year-old former United youth teamer, snapped up by Rovers on a one-year deal within a day or so of being told by the West Yorkshire club that he wouldn’t offered a full-time contract, could be lining up against the Elland Road side in tonight’s Carling Cup second round tie at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Baxendale made his first-team debut for Rovers when coming on as a second half substitute in the 3-0 first round win over Tranmere Rovers.
“I’ll always remember that game for the rest of my life,” said the Doncaster-born player who has an old head on young shoulders.
Having helped Rovers progress to the second round of the competition for only the second time in four years, Baxendale’s eyes were glued to television the night the draw for the second round was made.
Like the rest of team-mates he had to wait longer than expected to learn of Rovers’ second round opponents due to the fact that the televised Sheffield Wednesday-Blackpool tie went first extra-time to extra-time and then penalties. But it was worth waiting from Baxendale’s perspective as Rovers were paired with Leeds at the Keepmoat Stadium.
“When we were drawn against Leeds I thought straight away that I’d really love to be involved in the game and hopefully help the club pick up another win,” he said. “I don’t see it as a chance to prove a point to anyone; I don’t hold any grudges with anyone at Leeds.
“I’m more concerned with enjoying my football and doing the best I can for Rovers if I get a chance.”
If Baxendale does feature tonight he says the occasion won’t phaze him.
“I feel comfortable on the ball at this level because that’s part of my game,” he says. “I think you’ve got to express yourself and in doing that hopefully help the team.”
Rovers will go into tonight’s game on the back of a fourth successive Championship defeat at Pride Park.
But Baxendale, an unused substitute at Derby, argues that prior to the game against the Rams the team had acquitted themselves well in their previous three league games and is optimistic going into tonight’s game despite United hitting good form.